Monday, December 1, 2008
The Year Of The Two Presidents
Barack Obama doubtless will make a lot of history before he's through, but he's already invented a new position: President-elect.
I don't remember Bush or Clinton being referred to that way. They were "Governor Bush" and "Governor Clinton" right up to Inauguration Day.
But now all of us, including the TV news anchors, are saying "President-elect Obama," except when we forget and call him "President Obama" and have to correct ourselves.
What we have is a situation unprecedented in American history: two presidents at the same time. One has all the power but no authority. The other has all the authority but no power.
So without any control of the purse strings or power over the institutions of government, Obama is doing the best he can with the only tool he has: the bully pulpit.
He's announcing his cabinet appointments weeks ahead of the usual schedule and giving us daily pep talks. Basically, he's saying, "Hang on, the cavalry is coming."
It's not much, but it's all he can do until Jan. 20.
Meanwhile, his former opponent, John McCain, is getting trashed by his own party before the body is even cold.
Last week I got an email from an online store called GOP Shoppe, which is affiliated with the Republican National Committee. It's selling two campaign buttons. One says, "Sarah '12 - We got part of it right." The other says, "Don't blame me. I voted for Romney."
Cold, huh? Whatever you think of McCain, he was clearly the best candidate the Republicans had, despite all that Bill Ayers and Joe the Plumber nonsense.
He's a better man than the campaign he ran, and I hope he turns his defeat into a springboard for the next, and best, stage of his career, just as Teddy Kennedy did after he lost the Democratic nomination to Jimmy Carter in 1980.
Forced to finally abandon his presidential ambitions, Kennedy went back to Capitol Hill and reinvented himself as one of the most effective senators in history, often making common cause with conservative Republicans like Orrin Hatch to pass bipartisan legislation.
McCain would do well to ponder the parallel careers of Al Gore and George W. Bush since 2000. Which one do you think is the happier man today?
By the way, I got a lot of phone calls and e-mails after I called Obama "the first post-Boomer president."
Most agreed with Sheree Styrlund of Concord, who wrote, "Technically speaking, President-elect Obama IS a baby boomer (1946-1964) - although, I have to admit, being born in 1963 I think of it more as my parents' generation (1940 & '42) than my own."
Exactly. The conventional way to measure a generation is to count birth rates. Hence, the "Baby Boom" generation, which, according to this point of view, started in 1946 after all those G.I.s came back from World War II and started making babies.
But, as Neil Howe and the late Bill Strauss wrote in their groundbreaking book, "Generations," there's a better measure: Generational consciousness.
Like Ms. Styrlund's parents, I was born before 1946. (In my case, 1945.) And there's no way I feel like a member of the buttoned-down Silent Generation. I'm a Boomer through and through.
Similarly, if you ask someone who was born in 1961 (like Obama) or 1963 (like Ms. Styrlund) if they feel like a Boomer, they'll say, as any good Gen-Xer would, "Get real, man!"
So here's my definition of a Boomer: You have to be old enough to remember President Kennedy's death, but not old enough to remember President Roosevelt's.
As for today's younger generation, the Millennials, my admiration for them knows no bounds. Some people compare them to us Boomers, in that we were both concerned with public affairs. But I think that comparison is superficial.
Both generations confronted an intransigent power structure. Our response was to freak out. Theirs was to seize control of the government.
Way to go, kids!